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Wedding Essentials

Secrets of a mixed marriage

I met my future father-in-law on a snowy night in Aberdeen.
Asia One - March 7, 2013
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Secrets of a mixed marriage

As he stood waiting for me at the station, with his thick moustache and coat turned up against the biting wind, he seemed a formidable figure and I was nervous.

Then his face broke into a broad grin and he gripped me in a giant bear hug.

At that moment, I knew I would be welcome in his family.

It was a relief because meeting a set of potential in-laws for the first time is always a tense situation.

When they come from a different culture, it can be even more of a minefield.

My wife is originally from Bangladesh. And although she has spent most of her life in Britain, telling her parents she was dating a Caucasian was still a big step.

So when a work trip took me to their home city of Aberdeen in north-east Scotland, the responsibility was on me to impress.

In the car on the way to his house, my future father-in-law kept the conversation light, steering clear of the "what are your intentions towards my daughter" line of questioning. Yet I could tell he was concerned.

He had to be sure I wasn't the stereotypical commitment-phobic young white man, and I understood this. But I was also apprehensive because, having grown up in an English village where virtually everyone was Caucasian, I knew very little about Asian culture, beyond what I'd seen in the odd Bollywood movie.

I racked my brains for the right thing to say to impress a concerned Bangladeshi father, eventually settling for safe topics such as my qualifications and career.

Then, when we arrived at his flat, I started to notice little similarities to the girl I was in love with, like the endearing way he held the map upside down while trying to explain the layout of the city. And it reminded me that a person's race is far less important than his qualities.

Nine years later, I'm married to his daughter and I believe this more than ever.

We were born continents apart, our separateness written in the colours and contours of our faces. But beneath the skin, we are the same.

Of course, combining my Western secular background and my wife's Muslim upbringing was always going to mean some uncomfortable dilemmas. Should we allow guests to drink alcohol at the wedding? If we have a son, will he be circumcised? (The answers are "yes" and "probably".)

For me, however, tying the knot with someone from a different cultural background has been a lesson in how little concepts such as race really matter. After all, my wife and I are both British, have similar values and grew up with the same kids' TV shows and tinny 1990s dance hits.

Even for couples who weren't raised in the same country, globalised culture can provide that common frame of reference which allows two souls to gel.

In Singapore, a growing number of women are getting hitched to guys from Europe, Australia and the United States, The Straits Times reported last month.

For those who feel the nation's identity is being eroded, this probably won't come as good news. Although we no longer live in an age when even an ugly expatriate could simply click his fingers and be surrounded by beautiful women, a hangover from those days lingers on.

I've heard male Asian friends complain about girls who date only white guys. At the same time, others have told me they would prefer to go out with a Western woman as she is likely to be less demanding.

This isn't to say Caucasians make better partners (otherwise why didn't I pick one?). It simply shows how sexual and racial politics remain deeply entwined, particularly in a multicultural society like Singapore.

Mixed marriages are on the rise here - accounting for one in five unions in 2011, up from one in eight a decade earlier. Yet friends tell me that marrying a person from a different ethnic group remains taboo in some quarters. At the same time, Singaporean men in search of a bride are increasingly turning to less developed countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam.

We can't escape who we are. Yet I'd like to think we can avoid letting our cultural backgrounds define us. Interracial marriages are often about constant negotiation and compromise. But then again, so is any relationship.

To share a life with another person means giving up a part of ourselves. The beauty is that we get back something far greater in return.


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